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The Evolution Project

Before I really begin to delve too deeply into what I am terming The Evolution Project, I thought I should come up with some sort of definitive goals or objectives, as well as rules and guidelines for those goals. And what better day to write down some scientific methods for an evolution project than on Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. Before this morning I had no idea that it was his birthday, but coincidence is a mistress I have learned not to question too much. As I have mentioned, I love serendipity.

As per the basic ideas outlined in my Thinking Evolution entry, I believe starting small and building in pieces is essential if we are ever to make great progress in the field of robotics. Granted, serendipity always seems to play a role in discovery and some people will make leaping strides purely by what would seem to be accidental in nature. It happens all the time in scientific pursuits. However, for this project I want to understand what is happening as it happens and not have to look back to figure out the "Wow! How did it do that?" stuff. Thus, the previous guides outlined will be applied.

The question is, "What really is the goal of this?" Obviously something to do with robotics and evolution, but what? Well, let us strip away the robotics part and instead go with something else. Something grander. How about two somethings? Sure, why not...Life and Intelligence?

Both of these things are very difficult to define overall, and subject to plenty of debate. Life in particular does not even hold a complete definition, it is subject to change based on who you ask (much like what makes up a planet. Poor, poor Pluto). The overall answer to what is life is similar to another controversial subject and the rulings made by judges on the subject: porn. It is difficult to define, but I know it when I see it. The same can be said for the definition of life.

There are a few hard and fast rules that most scientists agree on when it comes to whether something is alive or not. I will use some of these rules, but seeing as I will not be using all of them I really have no justification having a goal of creating life. Despite all my strengths, I fall short of anything close to god-like (Just don't tell my ego I said that) and so we will say "Artificial Life".

The intelligence part, while not so heavily debated, is another one of those words that falls into the porn category for definition. You might think the obvious thing to do is go with Artificial Intelligence, but I am not. Artificial is fake, or in this case mimicking. I do not want to create something that mimics intelligence; I want something that displays it. That possesses intelligence of its own. I might not be able to create true life out of electronics and machinery, but I can create intelligence. Or at the very least will strive for that.

Now for the formalized goal. Drum roll please. The Evolution Project will be a progressive selection and building process of artificial life forms, such that each new generation should be superior to or better able to survive than the previous; with the ultimate goal of one or more generations of Intelligent Artificial Life Forms. Good goal. Simply, I want to make an Intelligent Artificial Life Form.

Onto the definitions and guides. The Artificial Life guidelines that I will be using will be taken straight from what Wikipedia considers a consensus of the characteristics of a life form, and I will add or subtract from these characteristics to accommodate the artificial portion.

1. Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, electrolyte concentration or sweating to reduce temperature. (Pretty self explanatory and something not all species need to do. We will take this one and add: ) as needed to survive.

2. Organization: Being structurally composed of one or more cells, which are the basic units of life. (We are not dealing with cells, but electrical and mechanical components. Hence the artificial part. Instead: ) Being structurally composed of one or more logic circuits, which are the basic units of electromechanical life.

3. Metabolism: Consumption of energy by converting chemicals and energy into cellular organizational components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life. (The only part here that does not apply is the decomposing organic matter. We will add that the artificial life form must be capable of deriving its own energy under its normal environmental conditions of its own accord. If you have to plug it in, it can not be an artificial life form, however if it can dock itself into a wall outlet and draw power on its own, then it is like you or I going to the fridge for food.)

4. Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of synthesis than catabolism. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter. The particular species begins to be multiplyied and expand as the evolution continues to flourish. (Obviously single cell organisms don't always grow, but the evolution part we will hold onto.)

5. Adaptation: The ability to change over a period of time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism's heredity as well as the composition of metabolized substances, and external factors present. (As defined, adaptation depends on characteristic number seven. By calling it Intelligent Design and with some experimentation, I will be providing the evolutionary adaptation. At least for the beginning.)

6. Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism to external chemicals, to complex reactions involving all the senses of higher animals. A response is often expressed by motion, for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun (phototropism) and chemotaxis.

7. Reproduction: The ability to produce new organisms. Reproduction can be the division of one cell to form two new cells. Usually the term is applied to the production of a new individual (either asexually, from a single parent organism, or sexually, from at least two differing parent organisms), although strictly speaking it also describes the production of new cells in the process of growth. (Until nanotechnology has progressed to the level that nano-devices are capable of rearranging compounds at the molecular level, this is something that needs to be skipped. Also of note, the primary reason for reproduction is to continue the species; but if a form of life existed that did not die, would it have the need to reproduce? Over population would become a huge issue if every part of a life form could be repaired or replaced and the life form could live forever. I think evolution would cause the loss of reproduction for such a species.)

Once you strip off characteristic number seven and add the few caveats, I think this will work for our guidelines of what constitutes artificial life. The intelligence part I will define myself:

Capable of making complex decisions based upon a response to external stimuli, prior experiences or both; combined with the ability to accumulate knowledge of said decisions and experiences in an effort to improve upon current and future decision making responses.

Basically, I will know it when I see it.

This is the Evolution Project. These are my goals and guidelines. It will take time and patience. It will take learning on my own part. It will be fun.

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Somewhere in all humans, whether it is buried under layers of the subconscious or right at the forefront of the mind is the desire to create. For some this means making babies, for others it is writing or building bridges or cooking, and for some it is r

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